[from Point Reyes Light]
Only five percent of the animals slaughtered in the United States are
currently protected by humane slaughtering regulations, leaving the
eight billion birds slaughtered yearly unprotected. The USDA has
decided not to extend legal protections to poultry – a category that
includes chickens, turkeys, water fowl, game birds and even rabbits –
even though they constitute 95 percent of the animals consumed.
If a lawsuit filed by several animal rights organizations succeeds in
court, the nation's poultry may gain the humane slaughtering
protections arguably extended to them nearly 50 years ago.
Local Rancher David Evans, who owns Marin Sun Farms, began
slaughtering his own poultry this year, operating under an exemption
that allows on-site slaughtering for farms handling fewer than 2,000
birds a year.
Evans believes that caging animals and shipping them hundreds of miles
for slaughter adulterates the product and drives up costs. Also, he
cares about the wellbeing of the animals he raises.
Evans is not a religious man, but he still sees his role in terms of a
biblical balance: on the one hand, we've been granted dominion over
this world; on the other hand, it's a sacred world, and we must
respect it. We must be humbled by our ability to control—to
domesticate and to slaughter.
"I don't separate humans from animals," he said. "We're all part of
the same environment."
He does believe, though, that humans and domesticated animals are
engaged in a contract with one another. Domesticated animals have been
bred for eating, not for survival. He pointed to his six-week-old
Cornish Cross broilers, feeding off the ground of their covered pen on
the morning of their slaughter. "Look at their feet," he said. "They
can hardly walk."
The company currently uses the industry's standard method of
slaughter. "As the birds enter the plant, the environment is dark and
quiet, and designed to minimize trauma. The chickens are then
electrically rendered insensible prior to the slaughter practice,"
A request for a tour of the plant was denied, on the grounds that its
slaughtering practices are proprietary information.
The Humane Society of the United States and East Bay Animal Advocates
are suing the USDA for what they deem to be its failure to fully
enforce humane slaughtering laws. A 1958 law protects all livestock
from inhumane slaughter. In September of 2005, the USDA declared it
would not extend this protection to poultry.
In doing so, the Humane Society believes the USDA is ignoring
Congress' mandate that all livestock be humanely slaughtered, by
interpreting it to exclude the vast majority of all animals
slaughtered in the U.S.
In the absence of regulatory protection, the Humane Society believes
poultry are suffering under industry practices such as shackling and
hanging conscious birds upside down, electrically stunning birds into
paralysis but failing to induce actual unconsciousness, cutting
conscious birds with mechanical blades (which are less precise than a
human-held blade), and drowning conscious birds in tanks of scalding
An alternative method supported by the Humane Society is
controlled-atmosphere killing, in which animals are placed in a
contained environment into which carbon dioxide is released, causing
the animals to pass out before being sent down the line.
Mark and Myriam Pasternak raise rabbits for a couple of reasons. "I
like their temperament," explained Myriam. Also, she said, "I like the
"Whether you're eating plants or you're eating meat, you're eating
something that was once living and I think it should be treated with
respect," Myriam said.
The rabbits are sent to Jones's Rabbit Farm in Sonoma County where
they're gassed, although the Pasternaks' would prefer they undergo
cervical dislocation – a quick and effective snapping of the neck.
"Our philosophy is that it should be as quick and as painless as
possible. It's never foolproof and we know that – I mean, look at what
happens with capital punishment," Myriam said.